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The Odyssey 2009: Day 8

Posted by indigodream on 14 April, 2009

The view downstream of the 'Beetle and Wedge' moorings

The view downstream of the 'Beetle and Wedge' moorings

Saturday 11th April Moulsford to Sandford

As I mentioned, we had a wonderfully peaceful night on the pub moorings. The hard-working staff there have unenviable working hours – the cheery faces who waved us off at 9am were the same ones who so efficiently served us at 9pm the night before.

There was a flurry of activity at the mooring first thing and a bit of excitement as a cruiser then a dutch barge pulled out of the moorings opposite; the barge turned downstream directly in front of a 4-man skiff which was forced to wait until the barge had finished its manouver. I wonder how rowers and bigger boats get along around here? I get the impression of a slightly uneasy relationship. That was just about it for boating excitement, the river was largely our own, apart from a flurry of rowers around the club house downstream of Wallingford.

Brunel's skewed creation - Moulsford railway bridge

Brunel's skewed creation - Moulsford railway bridge

The first landmark of the day was the interesting skewed railway bridge upstream of Moulsford. Built by Brunel, it’s a great mix of solid functionality and beautiful craftsmanship. There seem to be two bridges here – we assumed that the first bridge was Brunel’s then the second is a later addition – sympathetically added in redbrick but lacking some of the the flair of the original. There’s a cluster of islands just upstream of the bridge – they’re reputedly haunted though we saw no unquiet souls as we cruised past.

We saw yet another face of the Thames today. Yesterday the fluid swell of the Chilterns rolled alongside, but today we swapped them for the featureless panorama of the flood plain. It has its own beauty but was a little soporific under the smooth grey sky. The flat landscape was dominated for miles by the giant Didcot power station – visible from every angle as the river contorted around the countryside.

View downstream to Wallingford Bridge

View downstream to Wallingford Bridge

Thankfully there are villages dotted at intervals along the river to break up the scenery – most are picturesque and all act as useful landmarks. The first that we passed through was Wallingford which looked attractive. There are very reasonable (£3 per night) parish council moorings on the right bank opposite the caravan park. This is where we found another error in our brand new Nicholsons, where the moorings are marked on the left.   It’s not a big deal – the moorings are very obviously signed!

And so the cruise went on – we had the river to ourselves and, between villages, our senses were as dull as the sky. Richard roused himself to do some DIY (starting the process of fitting the smart gauge), dogs were asleep and I took the helm.

We renewed our land-owning pretensions as we passed through the lovely village of Shillingford. There’s a 5-acre plot for sale adjacent to the river, just upstream of the attractive road bridge. It’s not an island so there are no access problems and

The view downstream towards Shillingford Bridge - the meado on the left's for sale!

The view downstream towards Shillingford Bridge - the meadow on the left's for sale!

apparently it has some fishing and mooring rights. What it didn’t have was a guide price – any bids?

This briefly woke us up as we speculated on transport to Shillingford, its desirability as a mooring and its distance from Surrey. All very positive…..

A little further on, we passed the spot where the tiny River Thame joins the mighty Thames. There’s a legend that upstream of this point, the Thames acquires a female spirit and turns into the Isis. I thought it was a bit fanciful and had decided to call it the Thames whatever. But actually the river changed it’s character soon after. We lost the big vistas as the river narrowed and the softly wooded banks closed in. The whole waterway acquired the feel of a canal – calm and sedate; but the plaques at every lock commemorating famous flood levels reminded us that this was a river, moody and changeable (no comment on the nature of the female spirit here of course 🙂

Abingdon's attractive river frontage

Abingdon's attractive river frontage

The revelation of the day came in Abingdon – what a great place to linger. We’d thought nothing of the town previously, but as we cruised through we noticed that it has a lovely riverscape – open fields and parkland on one side, stunning old redbrick buildings on the other. It also had the signature of a town making the best of its waterfront – FREE 5-day moorings on both sides of the ancient Abingdon Road Bridge. Although we were pushing for Oxford we couldn’t resist stopping. Dogs had a good rummage round the park before we went for a wander round the town. The town’s early history seems to revolve around an ancient Abbey (now ruined) and there’s a fascinating mix of buildings spanning from the 1400’s through to today. It is obviously a prosperous market town, full of vitality and interest. It has a wonderful range of pubs – we speculated that a 5-day mooring still wouldn’t give you enough time to explore all of the pubs within walking distance of the river!

One of Abingdon's historic buildings

One of Abingdon's historic buildings

In the brief time there, we were there we spotted the important bits – a Thornton’s chocolate shop, Costa coffee and the luscious Pascal’s patisserie on East St Helen’s Street (OX14 5EG). We chatted for ages with a couple who own two greyhounds of their own. As always, praise for our dogs made us very happy and we were filled with goodwill towards the town. Our only regret, having now moved on, is that we didn’t spend some more time here – it is a charming place.

Note: there are free 5-day moorings on either side of Abingdon Bridge; the moorings downstream are more convenient for the town but are a bit high for a narrowboat (awkward for offloading); the upstream moorings are a bit further from town but much better for dog-walking and are at a better height for narrowboats.

This feeling of goodwill persisted as we went up through Abingdon Lock. The lock keeper was a real gem, characterful and efficient; then just upstream we found excellent services so we filled with water, did a pump-out (£7.50 card from

Quad bike race - great view from the river

Quad bike race - great view from the river

the lock-keeper) and disposed of our rubbish. While we did all this we we chatted with an Anglo-Welsh hire boat and admired their locking fuel cap (photo below). Lou scrounged a fuss from a hiker who’s sister owns FOUR greyhounds and Blue just rummaged. There are also 24-hour moorings just upstream of the services – this would be a convivial spot to spend a day.

A bit further on we were lucky enough to be spectators at the start of a quad bike race in a field adjacent to the river. We cheekily hovered on the river as we watched the bikes literally flying over the course – we must have had the best view as we could see the entire track from the river!

After Abingdon we faced the long curve up to Oxford. The river suddenly narrows here and it was hard to believe that we were on the same waterway that, down by the Thames Barrier, could accommodate 250 narrowboats without touching the sides!

Secure moorings at Sandford Lock

Secure moorings at Sandford Lock

We started speculating on moorings – ideally we needed to leave the boat somewhere safe for a week and had thought of mooring on the towpath somewhere on the Oxford Canal (if we could make it that far). But checking our various guide books and chatting with local lock-keepers we realised that we were unlikely to get a mooring in Oxford. Apparently they’re clamping down on continuous moorers in the City and there are few, if any, longer-term moorings.

This left us with a bit of a dilemma, but the lock-keeper at Sandford lock was brilliant. I should say, first of all, that he looked splendid with his bushy moustache, a smart black suit with a fine waistcoat and gold fob chain – a real river character. He was also tremendously helpful when we needed information about moorings and volunteered the lock’s own mooring space (£8.50 a night). We thought it through – the mooring was secure, a reasonable price, directly opposite a pub with a car park and only a few miles cab journey from Oxford train station. We decided to stay put at Sandford and neatly reversed her into the nicely out-of-the-way mooring adjacent to the lock.

Great dog-walking meadow at Sandford Lock

Great dog-walking meadow at Sandford Lock

Later on we found that the lock-keeper had accidentally double-booked the mooring. Fortunately the second narrowboat was being crewed by a relief lockie who could give himself permission to moor overnight on the lock lay-by! Just as well – we’d booked and paid for our week’s moorings and I’m not sure where we could have gone if we’d had to move.

Sandford has, so far, proved to be a wonderful place. There’s a large meadow on the other side of the lock – perfect dog-walking as its bound on two sides by the river and then well fenced on the other two sides so nicely secure for a racing greyhound. The mooring’s fenced off from the bridge over to the pub so we felt very secure.  Not only was the lock-keeper helpful, but so were the people in the pub (The King’s Arms – OX4 4YD). Their car park is a 3-hour pay ‘n display but the manager kindly gave me an overnight parking pass (free) on the proviso that we would be eating there in the evening.

It's been a busy few days.....

It's been a busy few days.....

The food was hearty pub grub and our waitress had a good sense of humour which made for a great evening. Sadly the pub doesn’t allow dogs inside (ok in the garden) but that didn’t matter. Our two were flat out after rummaging around the meadow for ages earlier.

We had thought of trekking back to Surrey on Saturday night. I’d taken a cab/train back to Reading and had driven the car back up to Sandford (brilliantly fast drive on empty A-roads) but it was so nice at our mooring that we decided to stay the night. Once again it was totally silent, despite the fact that it was so close to the pub. We heard a few drunks singing their way across the lock at closing time but there was no trouble. We had a peaceful night’s sleep and both dog and human crew had a job to get going on Sunday morning. But we were on a deadline to get back for a family Easter gathering.

We left the dogs at home on Sunday while we went off for a Polish feast at Richard’s sister’s house. Blue and Lou didn’t even notice us leaving – they’re completely exhausted after their adventures on the boat. It’s now 4pm on Monday and they’re still sleeping it off….

Photoblog:

More cute dog photos (they’ve been such posers this weekend!), a bit of scenery and some boat names which tickled Richard’s fancy being as many of the names seemed grander than the boats!

Blue keeping watch - nothing unusual there

Blue keeping watch - nothing unusual there

Moulsford's haunted islands

Moulsford's haunted islands

Lou by herself - that's unusual

Lou keeping watch - now that's unusual

Must be rabbits on the bank.....

Must be rabbits on the bank.....

Just cute.....

Just cute.....

What a smart boathouse

What a smart boathouse

Not your usual summerhouse - wartime pillbox at the end of the garden...

Not your usual summerhouse - wartime pillbox at the end of the garden...

uhm, only if you take that hood down!

uhm, only if you take that hood down!

Not the obvious war boat of the iceni....

Not the obvious war boat of the iceni....

No no, you've got it wrong - WORK is the real thief of time....

No no - WORK is the real thief of time....

r_indigo-dream-11apr2009-_053

Tranquil Days sounds good

r_indigo-dream-11apr2009-_054

why here?

r_indigo-dream-11apr2009-_055

Normally moors by Brunel's bridge (and the haunted islands??

Apt, though we don't know for certain whether the inside's bigger than the outside!

Apt, though we don't know for certain whether the inside's bigger than the outside!

Fine house and boathouse upstream of Shillingford

Fine house and boathouse upstream of Shillingford

Maybe this cruiser should be called 'limbo dancer'!

Maybe this cruiser should be called 'limbo dancer'!

New thatched developments going up

New thatched developments going up

The discreet junction with the River Thame

The discreet junction with the River Thame

The start of the link between the Thames and the Berks and Wilts Canal

Site of the proposed junction between the Thames and the Berks and Wilts Canal, but with only a short stretch of canal.

Abingdon's gargoyles

Abingdon's gargoyles

Abingdon's gargoyles

More of Abingdon's gargoyles

More flying quad bikes

More flying quad bikes

Anglo-Welsh design for a locking fuel cap

Anglo-Welsh design for a locking fuel cap

Dramatic fallen tree - glad it wasn't on the move in the current!

Dramatic fallen tree - glad it wasn't on the move in the current!

Isis - the more intimate face of the Thames....

Isis - the more intimate face of the Thames....

The telltale ripples of side-paddles; if you see these then keep a tight hold on your ropes or you'll get pushed out from the lock wall (which tends to upset any cruisers sharing with you!)

The telltale ripples of side-paddles; if you see these then keep a tight hold on your ropes or you'll get pushed out from the lock wall (which tends to upset any cruisers sharing with you!)

3 Responses to “The Odyssey 2009: Day 8”

  1. Sizzlers Turbos' Dad said

    Mickey was very jealous to see his brother laying on the leather car seats as he is only allowed in the luggage area on a dog bed on all things.
    When you get to Brecon we will bring him to see you!!

  2. Greygal said

    Hi Sue, glad to see you got your priorities right in Abingdon! That was us in Northwich – first stop, Costa, and out with the loyalty card!

  3. indigodream said

    Sizzlers Turbo’s Dad: Brecon would be a great destination, they just have to get the canal back through Cwmbran and then the easy bit will be building a barrage across the Severn….

    An excuse will have to be found for the brothers to have a re-union – we are bound to be Llandysul bound at some point this year so will need to take dogs on their comfy back seat (sorry Mickey) and get in touch.

    Greygal: Costa?? Ha you trying to do me out a job?

    Richard

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